Eye Rolling and Disability, a Brief Explanation

Do the blind have occult powers? I’m not sure generalizations about any group are worthwhile but as a blind man I can hear sighted people roll their eyes at me.

I hear this at least twenty times a day and sometimes the incidents number higher.

When sighted people roll their eyes it makes a sound like the world’s smallest theremin. It’s a squeaky Hollywood monster movie effect almost below the level of human hearing.

In a meeting with colleagues I say: “I need an accessible version of this handout,” and I hear a dozen teensy monster movies around the table. “The Thing” has risen in all those unseeable heads. The blind guy needs access. We don’t feel comfortable. Oooooweeeeeeeoooooo!

In monster movies it’s not the monster himself (herself) who starts the theremin music. It’s the scientist behind the creature.

I like to think of normatively constructed civic life, which is narrow and grudging about disability in public as the scientist behind the creature.

We can call the scientist the social construction of normalcy as we tend to do in the field of Disability Studies. But the invisible hand of normalcy is perverse, phobic, gloating, superior before its private mirror. The cliche we use most often when thinking of social normalcy is “thinking outside the box” and I’m here to tell you that the disabled are always outside the box. This is where all our thinking and working occurs.

The compulsive normals in their invisible lab coats don’t like inconvenience which means anything or anyone that alters their routines. Need a Braille menu? Theremin. Need an accessible website or application? Theremin. Need a functioning wheelchair lift into a university lecture hall. Theremin. Want audio description of a film being shown on your campus. Theremin. Ooooooweeeeeooooo! If you ask for these things you’re the monster. And worse, you’ve gotten loose. Quick! Hide the children!

There’s theremin music in the supermarket. The little child sees the blind person with a cane or dog and says: “Mommy, what’s that?” And mommy replies: “Shhhh! Don’t look!” Cue the scary music.

Meantime I hear the eye rolling everyday. Catch a cab? Squeeee… Boarding an airplane….
Entering the restaurant. Just walking on the ordinary street.

Checking into a hotel.
Attending a sporting event.
Once, when I was entering a major league baseball stadium with my guide dog, a rather drunken woman said loudly to her man, “why would a blind man go to a baseball game?”
Oooooooweeeee….

The disabled ruin the neat social order.

I almost never have a day without the music.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
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Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger